Trafficking and Smuggling | Understanding the difference

So what really is the difference between trafficking and smuggling? And how can you tell?

Yes, trafficking and smuggling are similar as they both involve the movement of people and are organised criminal activities. But we must be careful to not conflate the two. As this can have great consequences for the vulnerable and exploited, many of whom are unaccompanied children.

There virtually isn’t any country in the world which is not linked to smuggling of migrants in some way. And despite globally we’re collectively gaining a much greater insight and knowledge into the trafficking of persons and the smuggling of migrants, there is still more we all need to understand.

Does this mean we’re doing all we can? Absolutly not. There is much we can be doing to try and prevent trafficking and recognise the the signs of both crimes.  

Understanding the difference between these crimes, why they are happening and what you can look out for, can disrupt human rights abuses and save lives.

The Smuggler

The term “human smuggler” is sometimes used instead of “travel agent” as the movement of people often includes the illegal crossing of borders. Children are often smuggled in exchange for a fee, that’s often paid for by a relative; often to help a child escape from humanitarian crisis, perhaps with the intention of affording them safety and a better life.

However, many unaccompanied children arrive in Europe alone because they left their home on their own or because they lost their companion or family member during their travels. Therefore, it is not uncommon for young people and children to be found on the street, only in possession of a telephone number of a parent in the country of origin or a family member in Europe, which makes them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

Sadly their family is rarely found.

In 2018 the European Migration Network reported that more than 30 000 migrant and refugee children are estimated to have gone missing after their arrival in Europe.

The Trafficker

This crime consists of young people and children who didn’t flee. They have been trafficked, and lured by the trafficker or sold by their family. Children are often destined for prostitution, forced labour or other forms of exploitation. And even when rescued from their exploitation are at risk to criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

Trafficked children have lost their trust in adults and are fearful to speak out. Also, they’ve become reliant for food and shelter from one source, their trafficker.

As part of our Survivor Care plan we recognise these challenges and as soon as a young person is referred to us we implement our Individual Safety Plan.

If this doesn’t happen, a child is likely to run, and return to their trafficker.

The signs of child trafficking and exploitation are not always obvious. But there are some common places you may see child exploitation.

Smuggling and trafficking are a very real threat to vulnerable children and can mean they are forced into modern slavery.

Therefore, we must remember that any child transported for exploitation purposes IS considered to be a victim of trafficking. A child cannot give consent to being exploited, even if they are aware or agreeable to being moved.

Our goal must be to recognise the trauma and abuse that takes place in the context of both trafficking and smuggling. And find ways to prevent and respond to it.

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